Exploring beyond Niagara Falls – what a great place!

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Without a doubt, the three beauties – American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horsehoe Falls – are the main attraction on both the New York and Ontario, Canada sides of Niagara Falls. But there are many other things to do and places to see beyond the falls.  We received lots of ideas from fellow bloggers Erin of Two to Travel’s Phaeton Journeys, Gay of Good-times Rolling and Don and Lisa, our friends from Ohio.  So we tried to check those out, and we discovered other fun things to do along the way.

A short 15-minute drive from our campground on Grand Island (click here if interested in Steve’s review of the KOA campground) took us to Old Fort Niagara, NY.  Our next door neighbor at the campground suggested this worthwhile stop, and it was an interesting one that history buffs will not want to miss.  This was a strategic site on the great lakes which played a critical role in the French & Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812.  It is preserved as it stood in the 1700’s when France and Britain controlled Niagara, and then it was restored between 1926 and 1934.  The three flags – French, British and U.S. – commemorate  the three nations that held Fort Niagara.

French Castle

The french castle in the background is the oldest building in North America’s lake region.

The buildings of Old Fort Niagara represent several different periods of history.  Large plaques representing the arms of France and Great Britain indicate the nation responsible for each building’s construction.

At the museum was displayed the biggest flag we have seen, encased in its own climate-controlled compartment.  It’s the original 15-stars, 15-stripes flag that was flown at Fort Niagara from 1796 to 1818.

Old Fort Niagara Flag

Original Ft. Niagara 15-stars, 15-stripes captured by the British in 1813.

Do you know where buffalo wings originated?  Well, we checked out the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, home to what is claimed to be the originator of buffalo wings.  Caution: when in Buffalo, one should not call the wings “buffalo wings” or “hot wings” – just call them “chicken wings”.  Very strange.  Doesn’t make sense to us, but we don’t want to start a bar brawl with these New Yorkers.  They certainly were packed on a weekday afternoon.  Verdict: the wings were good – big, plump and juicy, fried crispy but not overcooked.  We have had better sauce on our wings, though.  So we would say they were good, but don’t bother flying across the U.S. just to try them.  At least we can say we had the originals!

Anchor Bar

At the home of the original buffalo wings

We crossed the border into Canada again, driving on the Lewiston Bridge to Ontario and exploring several  attractions.  We cruised along the 35-mile Niagara Parkway that runs beside the rampaging river.  Along the route are various attractions worth stopping for if you have time.

At the Sir Beck Hydro Power Plant in Ontario, we took a tour and learned about the new additional Niagara Tunnel that was completed in March 2013. This monster is 47.24′ high and 41.67′ in diameter – “big enough for 5 school busses to park side-by-side”.  The 6.3-mile underground tunnel diverts water from the Niagara River just above Horsehoe Falls, then quickly drops 328 ‘ and rushes downstream to the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station.  Finally, the water enters a pipe called a penstock and through the huge turbines to generate electricity.  This plant generates enough power to supply just about everything within 30 miles .  We were amazed to learn the plant is so efficient that the average maintenance needed by each turbine is just 3 hours per year.

Turbines at Sir Beck HyroPlant

Turbines at Sir Beck Hydro Plant.  They use bicycles to get around this massive place!

Per agreement between the U.S. and Canada, up to 75% of the water flowing toward the three falls at Niagara Falls is diverted into the huge tunnels running to hydroelectric plant “ponds” in New York and Canada.  This is enough water diversion that you can actually see a difference in the flow over the falls at night.  Both Ontario Hydro and the New York State Power Authorities pump this massive amount of water into their gigantic water reservoirs in order to top them up and supply the plants during the daytime hours.  During the day, water diversion is reduced to about 50% so that millions of tourists can enjoy the beauty of the falls. Pretty cool arrangement!

International Control Dam

The International Control Dam can be seen from Goat Island, NY or past Table Rock in Ontario.

The International Control Dam upstream has 18  gates that are raised or lowered in order control the water flow over the Falls for diversion into the Hydro Tunnels of Ontario Hydro and the New York State Power Authority.

Welland Canal is a ship canal which enables ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment, and to bypass Niagara Falls.  It operates just like the Panama Canal – on a much smaller scale (click here to read our post about the Panama Canal).  Welland Canal extends 26 miles from Port Weller Ontario, on Lake Ontario, to Port Colborne Ontario, on Lake Erie.  We were hoping to catch one of the passing ships as we arrived early in the morning and climbed the observation platform at Lock 3 near St Catherine’s.  However, we were informed that the next crossing was several hours away.  Fortunately, at Thorold Lock 7 the ship CSL Niagara was just beginning to navigate into the narrow canal.

Lock 3, Welland Canal

Lock 3, Welland Canal.  Pretty, but not a ship in sight.

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The CSL Niagara squeezing into the lock

Thorold, Lock 7

About 20 minutes later, and 25′ higher – good to go!

A stop at Niagara-on-the-Lake was a must, as this little town was adorned with colorful foliage and teeming with tourists.  We contributed to their economy as Steve bought his Tilley hat at the Beau Chapeua Hat Store.  Then we stopped at an Irish Pub so we could sample the Irish Family of Beers and have a hearty lunch (Steve’s eyes rolled back in his head as he enjoyed the corned beef).  There were several fruit stands along the way, but we had to pass them since we were afraid the yummy fruits would be confiscated at the border – which has happened to us before.  We did taste and buy some excellent wine at the Peller winery though, and the border folks didn’t even ask about them.

On the Niagara Parkway, we also checked out the Botanical Gardens and the cool floral clock.

Botanical Garden

Pose at Hornbeam Alley at the Botanical Gardens

Niagara Botanical Garden

Steve wanted to smack this plant just to kill the flies!  Probably against the rules…

Floral Clock

40-foot wide floral time piece.

Continuing south on the Parkway, we ended up back at Niagara Falls where we saw hordes of tourists gawking at the falls.  The Canadian side of the falls are very popular, as you are able to see full frontal views of the huge Horseshoe Falls.

Table Rock

Tourists viewing at Horseshoe Falls at Table Rock on the Canadian side

One of our final stops was at the Skylon Tower, where we were able to view the falls at night from the top.

Skylon Tower

Skylon Tower

My last picture of the Horseshoe Falls at night, viewed from Skylon Tower, is not the best of my captures, as the multi-colored lights did not come out so good.  I still have a lot to learn about night time photography.

Horsehoe Falls at night

Illuminated Horseshoe Falls at night

Crossing the border back into the U.S. at the Rainbow Bridge involved a 40-minute wait.  Although we think we have seen a lot, we know there are many other things worth checking out here.  But alas, after a busy week it’s time to move on.

As I sit here ready to publish this blog, it is beautiful out (in the 70’s) but raining lightly. We were going to ride bikes today, but it looks like we might have to delay it until tomorrow and instead do some reading and enjoy a glass of wine.  Darn, life can be so difficult at times!

Next up:  Parish, NY

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Incredible river, falls, and bridges – this is Niagara Falls!

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Niagara River

We could never get tired of gawking at the three massive waterfalls collectively known as Niagara Falls, as we experienced them several times – on foot, bicycle and via a guided  tour.  How could we?  The three falls – American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horsehoe Falls – are spectacular, breathtaking and awe inspiring.  They are a required destination that we attempted to view from different angles and viewpoints.  So, for those of you who have been there, bear with me.  I can barely contain my excitement!

Below is an aerial view of the Niagara River, of which 10% flows to the American and Bridal Falls on the left, and 90% flows to the Horsehoe Falls on the right.

Goat Island

After chilling out at Lake Erie for a couple of days, we had our priorities set – walk and bike around the waterfalls.  On the first day, our plan was to just stroll around Goat Island, but we got so excited with the waterfalls and surrounding beauty that we decided to turn it into a major walk.  Our adventure started by walking around Goat Island and crossing the pedestrian bridge to Prospect Point, where we had an awesome view of the American Falls.  Then we walked up to the observation tower and continued on to the Niagara Gorge Trailhead where we followed various trails, ending at the Whirlpool Gorge overlook.

Our  walk began with a glowing rainbow at Terrapin Point – the top of Horseshoe Falls on the American side – a great omen for the awesome scenery ahead.  The waterfalls can be viewed from the American side at Niagara Falls, New York or on the Canadian side at Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Horsehoe Falls

At the brink of Horseshoe Falls the thick mist obscures the view.  Ontario, Canada is in the background.

Goat Island was so called because just a single goat survived out of many other animals during a severe winter in the 18th century.  It is a small island in the Niagara River, located in the middle of Niagara Falls between the Bridal Veil Falls and the Horseshoe Falls.  At this point we walked to Three Sisters Island, where along the river we saw a unique view of the upper rapids as it raced down to the Horseshoe Falls.  We should point out that many major improvements have been completed during the spring of 2013 at several viewing points along the falls on the American side.  They have done a fantastic job.

Horseshoe Rapids

Viewing the Horseshoe Rapids

Three sisters Island

View of the thick mist created by the Horsehoe Falls at Three Sisters Island

We continued our walk across one of the two bridges connecting Goat Island, and here is where we got a prime view of the American Falls, the rapids and Bridal Veil Falls from Prospect Point near the observation tower.

American Falls

American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls (the last small falls in the distance), viewed from the observation tower – US side

Continuing on our trek, we ambled on to the Niagra Gorge trailhead where a series of trails parallels the Niagara River Gorge.  We passed under the Rainbow Bridge, where pedestrians can walk across and get spectacular views of the falls on the Canadian side.

Rainbow Bridge

Vehicles and pedestrians move between nations here

On our way to the Whirlpool Gorge we took the more rugged and scenic trails, the Great Gorge Railway Trail and Whirlpool Rapids Trail.  Returning, we took the easier Niagara Gorge Rim Trail and the Robert Moses Recreation Trail.  At the Whirlpool Overlook we learned how Niagara first formed many thousand of years ago, when the falls carved through the rocks and receded, forming the 7.1 mile gorge that we saw today.

Whirlpool Bridges

Beneath the Whirlpool Bridges

The whirlpool rapids run at 22 mph, 35 feet deep and at a Class VI rating are considered among the most dangerous in the world.  Fortunately we had no desire to challenge them!

The Whirlpool Gorge is so named because of the water which circulates through this section counter-clockwise and must dive under the incoming stream to continue down the river.  In 1913, the aero car you see in the picture below was built by a Spanish engineer and is suspended on 6 interlocking steel cables.  It travels between two cliffs on the Canadian side of the gorge.

Aero Car

These tourist inside the Aero Car has a good birds eye view of the whirlpool

Not content with our 11-mile walk in 90 degree temperatures on that day, we woke up early the following morning to bike back to the falls.  The trailhead was at the foot of the North Grand Island bridge.

North Grand Island Bridges

North Grand Island bridge

As we biked along the Niagara River Trail we saw two water intake gates for the power plants, the mist of the falls on the horizon and finally Luna Island, where 10% of the river flows into the American and Bridal Veil Falls.

American Falls

Can you tell how excited I am to be at the falls!

North Grand Island Bridges

Under the North Grand Island bridges

And then we did what most toursist would do – got wet under the falls, heard the thunderous waters cascading down, felt its intensity  and got inspired by the spectacular views at the foot of the waterfalls!

Strolling into Ontario, Canada across the Rainbow Bridge offered another stunning view of the falls, especially during the evening.  This is the best way to get between the US and Canadian sides of the falls if you can, we walked across just to take some pictures and get dinner.

Horseshoe Falls

Horseshoe Falls viewed near Table Rock Visitor Center in Ontario, CA

Horseshoe Falls

Full view of the Horseshoe Falls that spans and connects the US and Canada

Niagara River

Sunset at Niagara Falls, viewed at the International Border Line at  Rainbow Bridge

Ontario, CN

Sunset at Ontario, Canada

Rainbow Bridge

Posing at the Rainbow Bridge, Steve’s in Canada and I’m in the USA.  He seemed unusually happy about that.

Sunset at American Falls

Sunset view of the American Falls from the Rainbow Bridge

Illuminated American Falls

Nighttime view of the American Falls, illuminated by powerful lights every night

Up next:  Many more things to do around Niagara Falls!

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